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Holding Prisoner 57 Days Without Judicial Appearance Unconstitutional

The plaintiff turned himself in at the county jail after he learned that a warrant had been issued because he missed a court appearance concerning child support arrearages. The sheriff's office misfiled his records and kept him for 57 days despite his daily complaints. (State law requires that persons arrested under these circumstances be immediately taken before the court.) Jail staff repeatedly told him that he was on the "will call" list but no date had been set. They refused to accept written complaints from him.

At 569: "... [T]his case plays out on the yielding natural grass of substantive due process rather than the stiff astroturf of specific constitutional rights." The Fourth Amendment usually governs up to a judicial determination of probable cause, but the plaintiff was arrested on a bench warrant so that determination had already been made. The Eighth Amendment does not apply to the unconvicted. The plaintiff's prolonged detention over his protests without a court appearance violated his substantive due process rights. The "shocks the conscience" test applies, but it can be met by a showing of deliberate indifference. Outside the Eighth Amendment context, the standard for deliberate indifference is closer to tort recklessness: "conscious disregard of known or obvious dangers ... even though the defendant obtusely lacks actual knowledge of the danger." (577) The defendants' conduct in maintaining a deficient "will call" policy combined with their refusal of written complaints meets the deliberate indifference threshold and independently shocks the conscience (which the court makes a separate inquiry). See: Armstrong v. Squadrito, 152 F.3d 564 (7th Cir. 1998).

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Related legal case

Armstrong v. Squadrito